Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Gospel of Consumption

Here's an interesting article that will perhaps make all of us work-a-holics take pause. It examines the birth of our 'consumer' culture and the things we give up to pursue it. Someone has to pay the bills, though, right?...

An excerpt:

Our modern predicament is a case in point. By 2005 per capita household spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) was twelve times what it had been in 1929, while per capita spending for durable goods—the big stuff such as cars and appliances—was thirty-two times higher. Meanwhile, by 2000 the average married couple with children was working almost five hundred hours a year more than in 1979. And according to reports by the Federal Reserve Bank in 2004 and 2005, over 40 percent of American families spend more than they earn. The average household carries $18,654 in debt, not including home-mortgage debt, and the ratio of household debt to income is at record levels, having roughly doubled over the last two decades. We are quite literally working ourselves into a frenzy just so we can consume all that our machines can produce.
It also speaks to our lack of actual production, a trend that has bothered me. America produces very little anymore, only services. I feel this lack of production capability will come back to haunt us when the wheels of globalism (cheap transport and cheap labor) begin to slow. That being said, you can't beat the prices at Sam's...but are we really considering all the external costs?

Meanwhile, the influence of the gospel has spread far beyond the land of its origin. Most of the clothes, video players, furniture, toys, and other goods Americans buy today are made in distant countries, often by underpaid people working in sweatshop conditions. The raw material for many of those products comes from clearcutting or strip mining or other disastrous means of extraction. Here at home, business activity is centered on designing those products, financing their manufacture, marketing them—and counting the profits.

The only problem I see: If consumption decreases, then demand for production decreases as well. We'll all have a lot of free time if we don't have a job at all. It seems to be a rather fine line that must be maneuvered. Thoughts?

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